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Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence Paperback – September 15, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0199549269 ISBN-10: 0199549265 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


This isn't a new book, but it is generating increasing discussion in university departments and elsewhere: hence this review... If you enjoy an ethical challenge, then read this book. Malcolm Torry, Triple Helix For those who admire really careful and imaginative argumentation, and are interested in either issues of life and death, or the foundations of morality, it's a must read Harry Brighouse, Out of the Crooked Timber Benatar's discussion is clear and intelligent. Yujin Nagasawa MIND

About the Author

David Benatar is currently Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He received his Ph.D. from that university, did post-doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1993 to 1995, and was Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1995 until 1997. His teaching and research interests are in moral philosophy and related areas. In 1999 he was awarded the University of Cape Town's Distinguished Teacher Award.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199549265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199549269
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

205 of 217 people found the following review helpful By Philonous on March 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In this remarkable book, the South African philosopher David Benatar attempts to solve, in a most unusual way, some related moral problems concerning matters of life and death. Benatar claims, inter alia, that deliberate procreation is immoral; that abortion is morally mandatory if possible before approximately 30 weeks of gestation; and that the morally optimal size of the human population is ZERO. On the face of it, this may strike the reader as absurd, or even insane, but Benatar is most certainly not a madman, as any reader who gives this book a fair chance will soon acknowledge.

The above-mentioned conclusions all follow more or less straightforwardly from Benatar's main thesis, which is almost literally expressed in the title of the book: For any conscious being (whether human or non-human) it would have been better never to exist, since coming into being is always an overall harm, and thus worse than non-existence, for that being (though not necessarily for other already existing beings, e.g. parents and siblings). Benatar argues for this astounding thesis by drawing attention to an alleged asymmetry between pain and pleasure (both understood broadly): Non-existence implies the absence of both pains and pleasures, but whereas the absence of the pains is something good, it is not the case that the absence of the pleasures is bad or something to be deplored. A potential person is not deprived of anything, claims Benatar, by not being brought into existence.

Some immediate, but confused, objections can be dismissed easily. One example is the objection that life must be an overall good for a person, unless that person is willing to commit suicide.
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79 of 85 people found the following review helpful By J. Fh on December 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Applied Ethics. Very argumentative. Benatar has caused turmoil in some philosophical circles. He's been read by people in Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton and other great knowledge centers. His ideas are indeed a threat to many of our naive assumptions. He criticizes common moral conclusions using premises that are generally accepted. He assumes for example that the reader agrees that:

1) it is wrong to bring someone into the world if that is going to cause that person too much pain.
e.g. If you are sure that person is going to have AIDS or live in extreme poverty, so that she will suffer an immensely excruciating pain.

He, then, argues that:

2) All lives, even the best ones are very bad. So you know, for sure, that by bringing someone to life, that person is going to suffer so much pain. Far more than pleasure.

3) Therefore, it is wrong to procreate.

Further conclusions:

In this line of thought, abortion, for instance, in the early stages of pregnancy is not only right, but morally mandatory. In addition, he establishes a very important difference between "lives worth continuing" and "lives worth starting", arguing that we are not morally obliged to kill ourselves. Absolutely not. But since by bringing someone into life I will expose this person to serious harm, it is best not to bring anyone into life.

Arguments to defend 2:

1) Pleasures and the hedonistic project are condemned to defeat, since any pleasures you have will not be able to undo the pain you will necessarily suffer.

2) Pain is part of the structure of the world and by bringing someone into life you are, ipso facto, exposing that person to serious harm.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Brian W. on January 27, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For sentient beings and for us humans especially, is life bad? According to South African philsopher, David Benatar, the answer is a resounding "Yes." Life is bad that it would be better if all sentient beings ceased with reproduction and went extinct after the current generation dies out.

This view on procreation is called anti-natalism and is often met with a visceral reaction in most people that learn of it. But, is it really so off target as to be insane, as most people assert or is it a completely rational and logical way in which clear headed people can and should view our lives and the world that we inhabit? Benatar argues that there are scientific reasons that we overestimate the quality of our lives.

In this book, he argues brilliantly, in my opinion, that procreation is not only irrational but it is immoral as well. He holds a candle for the "Pro-death"movement in that he believes women are morally obligated to abort their fetuses at the earliest stages of gestation. The visceral reaction that most people have to his view point is easily explainable, according to Benatar; humans have evolved over billions of years to be optimists. This is the way in which we survive as a species and it blinds us to the reality of our lives. In short, humans are delusional about their condition because nature makes us this way. This is very unfortunate, according to Benatar, because it leads us to the creation of new lives and new suffering.

Why is life so bad? Well, according to Benatar, even the most priveleged and gifted lives are full of suffering and hardship. Humans are "centers of suffering" according to Benatar and we don't even realize it due to our optimism bias instilled by nature.
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